Monday, February 09, 2009

for the love of reading

Traveling to other blogs is always rewarding.  The other day I stumbled upon this inspiring post, and I immediately started thinking about which books have changed my life.  The idea is that you would devote one shelf to your own life-changing books.  Wonderful idea, don't you think?

It also made me wonder about reading in general, and the eager student in me started researching the tangible benefits of sitting down with a book.  Recently a friend had mentioned a study (or psychologist) that suggested people who read a lot of fiction are generally better equipped in relationships, due mainly to the fact that they develop empathy for all sorts of character types - not to mention their situations, challenges and experiences.  A Canadian study written about here confirms this basic thought, as the U of T professor stated that "[his researchers] found that fiction readers had substantially greater empathy".  And Maryanne Wolf, the Director at the Center for Reading and Language Research has wonderfully suggested, "we bring our life experiences to the text, and the text changes our experience of life" (with thanks to this review of Wolf's book).  All to say that reading is important, rewarding and simply put - time well spent.  So on to the list of life-changing books!

Here are mine, but not in any order:

The Homemaker, by Dorothy Canfield: read just last month on a tip from Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity.  This book made me cry, made me want to reach in and embrace a 4 yr old as his emotions explode when he discovers the depth and sincerity of his father's love.  And it made me want to jump for joy for the progressive thinking about imposed gender roles even though the novel was written in 1924.

Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez: when I needed to pay off my student loans, this book put money into perspective for me and helped me develop values and strategies for dealing with money issues that have served Jay and me well.  I am forever changed because of this book - philosophically and financially.

The Powerbook, by Jeanette Winterson: I love almost anything Jeanette Winterson writes, but this book had sat on my shelf unread for years.  I picked it up at a pretty low point, and it couldn't have been better timed.  It reminded me that no one is perfect, that love is as beautiful as it is destructive, and that Winterson will always inspire me.

Ana Historic, by Daphne Marlatt: early in University a boyfriend had to read this for his English course, and although he disliked it, I devoured the novel.  It was the first time I read a novel written in experimental and poetic prose, and I was blown away.  That the main character made up the life story of a women offhandedly mentioned in an old newspaper article was an intriguing storyline too, and perfectly suited to the style of writing.  I could never look at words the same again.

Whylah Falls, by George Elliot Clarke: another novel written in a series of poems, but flavoured by the Acadian world of Nova Scotia.  I read this later in University, but it still binds me to my dear friend Kristen as we both loved Clarke's language and the visuals his words inspired.

Away, by Jane Urquhart: Urquhart is one of my favourite authors, and I read Away while Jay and I were adjusting to domestic life at the same time as trying to maintain an artistic practice.  The idea of a woman being "away" struck a chord with me and really influenced the art I was working then (and now).  It had never occurred to me that a woman might abandon her life, her family, and especially her children, for any reason.  But the human mind is fragile, and this novel was full of insight.

It's a small list, but these are the novels that immediately came to mind for me.  Do you know what would be lovingly placed on your shelf?